(CTN News) – Chinese tourists are receiving a royal treatment under a new visa-free program that has resulted in a resurgence of visitors to Thailand’s famed beaches, shopping centres, and ancient temples.
As part of his plan to revitalise Thailand’s economy, newly appointed Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin declared that Chinese and Kazakh visitors would not need visas to enter the nation between September 25 and February 24 of next year.
The measure was implemented in time for the “Golden Week” holiday season that begins on October 1 and celebrates China’s National Day.
This year’s Golden Week runs from September 29th to October 8th, coinciding with the Mid-Autumn Festival. It’s also one of the rare vacation times for Chinese citizens since the COVID-19 outbreak that doesn’t involve any travel restrictions.
Gifts were presented to Chinese tourists coming from Shanghai at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport on Monday, the first day of the visa-free program, by Sretta and the tourism minister.
“We are confident that this scheme will boost the economy substantially,” Sretta told the press.
We hope to increase the number of Chinese visitors visiting all of Thailand, not just the more popular destinations like Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Pattaya, and Phuket.
He said the Thai government would want to see more tourists spending more time in rural areas.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Wenbin stated at a press conference on Tuesday that Beijing appreciated the country’s hosts’ “warm welcome” this week.
Before the Covid-19 outbreak devastated the global tourism industry in 2019, China was the leading source of visitors to Thailand, with around 11 million people planning to travel to the Southeast Asian country in 2019.
That’s a dramatic change from projections for the year 2023. According to statistics provided by the Tourism Authority of Thailand, only 2.2 million Chinese visitors arrived between January and September 10.
As a result of China relaxing its travel restrictions in early 2023, many Southeast Asian countries had high hopes for a recovery of foreign travel to enhance their tourism sectors after the pandemic shutdowns.
With the Chinese economy slowing, the yuan depreciating, and joblessness at an all-time high, regional tourism centres had to lower their sights and prepare for a longer path to recovery.
Check-in Asia CEO Gary Bowerman said the new visa-exemption policy sets the tone not only for the Golden Week peak seasons but also for the forthcoming Christmas and Lunar New Year vacation periods.
It’s getting harder and harder to compete with other countries for Chinese tourists, so Bowerman advises making things as simple as possible for them.
He continued by saying that the Chinese outbound travel sector is in a “transitory period,” as post-pandemic travel trends and attitudes have shifted and more Chinese customers are eager for new experiences, albeit on tighter budgets.
Due to the Covid limitations, China did not let its nationals to go abroad for leisure purposes last year. A surge in domestic tourism followed.
Despite the current state of the economy, more and more people are taking advantage of the opportunity to take a vacation overseas.
One of them is a Huang surnamed tech worker. She posted on Xiaohongshu, China’s version of Instagram, that she drove through the western section of Sichuan province during the long October holiday last year, but that this year she plans to travel to Thailand for a surfing trip instead.
It’s not the first time. One of my top travel priorities is to go surfing. She stated, “I’ll be checking out some new spots and I still have no idea what the waves are like in Thailand.
According to Trip.com, which also manages China’s largest travel booking platform, Ctrip, outbound foreign travel bookings are roughly 20 times more than during the same holiday period last year.
In September 2022, for instance, over 300 million people in China were affected by coronavirus lockdowns in more than 70 major cities.
Trip.com reported that hotel bookings in Thailand increased by 6,220% compared to the same period last year after the visa-free scheme was announced on September 13. For Chinese tourists going abroad, predictions put Thailand at the top of the list, followed by South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, and the United Kingdom.
According to Jin Junhao, deputy director of the Civil Aviation Administration of China, more than 21 million passengers will fly in China during the Golden Week period, with an average of 17,000 daily outbound international flights and another 14,000 daily domestic flights.
More and more individuals are riding trains within China to travel to the country’s many outlying regions.
According to rail booking platform 12306, China Railway predicts that between September 27 and October 8 there will be an estimated 190 million railway travels.
That’s more than the 138 million journeys expected to be taken in 2019 before the epidemic strikes, and it’s more than twice as many as the 72 million trips taken during the same holiday last year.
Joanna Lu, head of consultancy for Asia at Ascend by Cirium, noted that despite the increase in demand, China’s outbound international flight capacity is still down around 50%, much lower than other countries, and international flight fares are still much higher compared to 2019.
Meanwhile, since the outbreak, people’s travel patterns have shifted. China Outbound Tourism Research Institute (COTRI) CEO Dr. Wolfgang Georg Arlt noted that modern Chinese tourists travelling abroad are looking for unique experiences at affordable prices.
He noted a shift in consumer priorities, saying, “People are looking for value for money.”
He adds that affluent people will continue to travel for a variety of reasons beyond pure recreation, including business, health, education, and family.
Chinese Tourists have been slow to return to Thailand before last month’s declaration of a visa-free programme.
According to data provided in August by Thailand’s Ministry of Tourism and Sports, China was not among Thailand’s top source markets for tourists for the first seven months of 2023.
Rumours that tourists to Thailand are being kidnapped and forced to labour in fraud centres in neighbouring Myanmar and Cambodia have reportedly discouraged Chinese social media users from visiting the country, complicating efforts to regain this important market.
The publication of the thriller film “No More Bets,” which is set in an undisclosed Southeast Asian country where individuals are persuaded to work in fraud factories, has only served to fuel these claims.
Meanwhile, a hashtag that translates to “why people are unwilling to travel to Thailand” garnered 420 million views on Weibo and was a top discussion topic on the social media site last month. Some users said they were afraid of being lured into scam factories, while others said the visa process was too time-consuming.
Sisdivachr Cheewarattanaporn, head of the Thai Travel Agents Association, said that this prompted the government to work towards regaining the trust of Chinese tourists. And, he said, those illegal activities weren’t happening in Thailand at all, but in neighbouring nations like Myanmar and Cambodia.
Thailand’s tourism industry is still counting on a boom when Chinese tourists visit for the next holiday periods, despite the fact that arrival statistics have been disappointing so far this year.
It’s not perfect, but it’s getting there. “The tour operators have been preparing,” Sisdivachr stated.